I have a new working paper available. This time it is co-authored with Matthew Curtis (great guy currently doing his postdoc at Université libre de Bruxelles — you should hire him if you are looking for a good economist). In the paper, we employ data on wages, mortality and literacy to create a human development index (HDI) for Quebec from 1688 to 1911 with an intent to focus on the 1760 to 1850 period. The focus is because there is a claim of an agricultural crisis (due to falling wheat output) in Quebec between 1800 and 1850. This, apparently, translated into falling living standards. This decline in living standards is behind many key political developments in Canadian history (notably the 1837-38 rebellions, the Act of Union, Confederation, the massive emigration of French-Canadians etc.).
We essentially obliterate (yes, that is actually what we do) the idea that there was a prolonged collapse in living standards in Quebec during the first half of the 19th century. We dont even find signs of stagnation. We only find positive economic growth and improvements in living standards. There was, simply put, no crisis (see the graph of our resulting HDI). All the historiography built on the idea of this crisis is simply building on moving sands.
The abstract is below and the paper is available here on SSRN:
The colony of Lower Canada, now the modern-day province of Quebec in Canada, is presented as having experienced a prolonged agricultural crisis (marked by the shift away from wheat-farming) during the first decades of the nineteenth century. During this crisis, living standards supposedly fell, but this is subject to a debate which persists to this day because of the absence of convincing data. In this paper, we use new data (real wages, literacy, and infant mortality) to provide quantitative evidence of living standards in the form of a Human Development Index (HDI) to study whether there was a crisis between 1760 and 1850 (and we extend the index to 1688 and 1911 in appendix). Across multiple specifications of the HDI to account for non-linearity, we find no signs of a crisis. We find only signs of improvements during the period — driven largely by falling infant mortality rate and rising literacy rates. This new evidence should finally put to rest the claim that there was a crisis.